MONTREAL — Canada’s freestyle skiing moguls team set the bar high at the last Winter Olympics but Mikael Kingsbury and the rest of the squad are ready for the challenge.
Kingsbury finished second to two-time Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau in Sochi, Russia in 2014 while Justine Dufour-Lapointe won gold ahead of her sister, Chloe, in another 1-2 Canadian finish.
Expectations aren’t as high this time, but Kingsbury will be the heavy favourite for gold after dominating the World Cup circuit in recent years. The Deux-Montagnes, Que. skier saw a run of 13 straight World Cup wins end Saturday at Mont-Tremblant, Que. when he finished second. But he still has 16 consecutive top-three results.
“Sochi was amazing — first Olympics,” Kingsbury said Monday as the Canadian team was introduced before cheering students at Antoine de Saint-Exupery high school. “I was the favourite with Alex and, winning a medal, I learned a lot from it.
“I want to win a gold medal for sure. It would be a dream come true and it’s the only thing I’m missing in my sport, but at the same time I couldn’t be more ready than I am now. I don’t have to think about the gold medal. I’ve worked so hard and I have the best team around me so I don’t feel like I’m alone.
“If I do the job like I’ve done in the last few World Cups, then I’ll be happy. I know if I do my job the judges will have no choice but to give me good scores.”
Kingsbury is joined on the men’s team by Montreal’s Marc-Antoine Gagnon and Philippe Marquis of Quebec City, who’s recovering from a knee injury suffered two weeks ago at Deer Valley, Utah.
The women’s side has Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal, Andi Naude of Penticton, B.C. and Audry Robichaud of Quebec City.
Kingsbury, 25, isn’t concerned about his win streak ending. He was a close second behind Japan’s Ikuma Horishima but called the Mont-Tremblant run a “baby course” and compared it to playing three-on-three hockey instead of the real game.
“I just have to remember the feeling I had in Calgary and especially Deer Valley, where I was at my best on a real course,” he said.
The six-time world champion swept two moguls events in Deer Valley to run his record for career World Cup victories to 48.
The Dufour-Lapointes had an emotional week in which they revealed that their sub-par performances this season may, in part, stemmed from concern over their mother Johane’s battle with cancer. She has been in remission since August.
Just clearing the air helped, said Justine.
“We were all a bit emotionally affected by what happened the last year and keeping it inside was kind of heavy on our hearts, so we were ready to get all this heaviness out of our system — to be free to go to Pyeongchang,” she said. “One step toward that was to say it out loud, then we’re free to ski with all our potential and talent.”
Justine Dufour-Lapointe posted her first win of the season at Mont-Tremblant, but remains sixth in World Cup standings. American Jaelin Kauf leads while Naude is in second place. Robichaud is ninth and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe is 12th.
But Chloe is not giving up hope of a repeat of Sochi.
“Everything’s possible because we’re big dreamers,” she said.
Naude just missed qualifying for Sochi but is confident heading to South Korea.
“It was heartbreaking at the time, I was devastated, but at the same time I’m really glad I didn’t end up in Sochi because it really made me know deep inside I wanted to be at the next Games,” she said. “So the past four years I worked really hard.
“I tried to push the limits to be the best athlete I can be and also try to have fun along the way. I’m thrilled to be going to Pyeongchang.”